Maria (pronunciation)

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The traditional pronunciation in British English RP, and that used for example in performances of Shakespeare's plays such as Twelfth Night, realises '-i-' (the central syllable) in the same way as the name of the letter (and pronoun) 'I': 'mer-EYE-e(r)' (IPA: /mə ˈraɪ ə/). This has been changing in the second half of the twentieth century. In US English particularly, and increasingly in the UK, the European pronunciation of the name of this letter ('-ee-') is being adopted: 'mer-EE-e' IPA: /mə ˈriː ə/. Such is the name of the heroine of the musical West Side Story (1956), who as an immigrant from Puerto Rico spoke Spanish as her mother-tongue. Both pronunciations stress the second syllable.

The slang term 'Black Maria' for a police van with dark windows used for transporting prisoners is "always" (LPD) IPA: /mə ˈraɪ ə/ ('mer-EYE-er').
A common name for the Virgin Mary (the mother of Jesus) in Romance languages (and Roman Catholic culture is Santa Maria. This is always pronounced in the Romance way, with the long '-ee-' sound: 'mer-EE-a'. In her own time, she'd have used a Semitic name ('Miriam'). The form we use was influenced by the Latin name Marius, whose feminine form is Maria.
See also Mary.